For our 2nd week the family vote was to do Universal Studios.
This was because the kids really wanted to do the Harry Potter parts of the parks plus get to do lots more rides (heavy sigh).
My hope of a 2nd week by the beach was outvoted……’we will do that next time’ said my wife craftily!
As a surprise I booked a stretch limo to take us from Art of Animation to Loews Portofino Hotel.
It’s only a 15/20 minute ride and the kids were more than happy to travel in style!
We chose the Portofino as its one of the few hotels where you can walk to the parks or alternatively get a water taxi transfer (very relaxing).
We had inter-connecting rooms overlooking the lake.
These were large in size with excellent bathrooms.
I would rate the hotel as a 4 star plus.
The main plus points are that you have a really nice pool area, some excellent on site restaurants (fairly expensive), easy access to the parks and best of all some exclusive theme park benefits not found elsewhere.
The best benefit is that you get a free skip the line unlimited ride pass so you can do your favourite rides as many times as you want always avoiding the larger queues….fantastic for families.
You also get complimentary water taxi transfers, priority seating at selected restaurants, early park admission plus free transfers to Wet n Wild, Seaworld and Aquatica if you’re not themed parked out!
Our favourite restaurants were Trattoria Del Porto (fantastic buffet breakfasts) and Sal’s Market Deli (kids gave the pizza’s a big thumbs up).
Our family recommendations are:-
Universal Studios – Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, The Simpsons Ride, Men in Black and Transformers.
For teenagers and adults don’t miss Holywood Rip Ride Rockitt and Revenge of the Mummy.
Corny old favourites include Twister, Shrek 4D, Diasaster and of course for those of a certain age ET!
Islands of Adventure – Spider-Man, Jurassic Park River Adventure, Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls and Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat barges.
For teenagers it’s the Incredible Hulk Coaster and Dr Dooms Fearfall (a bit sneaky this one)!
Harry Potter World – is without doubt the most popular attraction at Universal.
It is now spread across both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
The parks are connected by the Hogwarts Express (clever).
Even being slightly cynical I have to admit that the attention to detail is superb and the rides are excellent.
You also have to admire the amount of planning that’s gone into the Hogsmeade shops and Diagons Alley although be warned that paying $35 upwards for a pretend wand at Ollivanders seemed very steep.
All in all though any Harry Potter fan will be delighted with a visit here and perhaps would only be put off by the outrageous queues for the rides.
Please note that the ‘skip the line’ pass offered by the onsite hotels is not valid at the Harry Potter rides so you have to queue.
The best way around this is to get up early and take advantage of the early park admission (opens 1 hour earlier for hotel guests).
The three hotels that get all the on-site privileges are:-
Loews Portofino Hotel.
Loews Royal Pacific Resort.
Hard Rock Hotel.
There is also the Universal Cabana Bay Resort that is a more budget conscious hotel with a great range of different room types.
This hotel gets limited privileges but feedback to date has been good.
There is also a new hotel due to open in Summer 2016 called Loews Sapphire Falls Resort (bookings now been taken).
Another attraction to staying at one of the on-site hotels is that you can walk to restaurants and shops.
Citywalk is situated before you enter either of the parks.
It’s basically a tourist entertainment centre with a great variety of different style restaurants, fast food outlets, shops, Imax Cinema and Theatre.
Restaurants that appealed to our young(ish) family were:-
The Hard Rock Café (huge but staff and food were good), Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville (good atmosphere) and Vivo Italian Kitchen.
At times they have live entertainment by the lake plus it’s always worth checking out what acts are on at Hard Rock Live.
There are plenty of choices if you want to book something a bit different at both Disney & Universal.
In our 2 week holiday we tried four.
Disneys Pirate & Pals Fireworks Voyage – is pretty much what you expect.
You meet at Disneys Contemporary Resort and have some child friendly party snacks and then meet your pirates before you’re escorted to the dock for your short voyage out onto the lake.
From here you will get a great view of the evening firework display.
Although the crew try and make it an event our opinion is that it was expensive for what it was so marked 5/10.
Disney – La Nouba by Cirque de Soleil – This show is on at Le Theatre, Downtown Disney and is on pretty much throughout the year.
This really is a fantastic show that will captivate most children and adults for that matter as it’s beautifully choreographed and fun to watch.
The theatre is relatively small so wherever you sit should get you a good view.
Tickets start from $59.00 per person.
La Nouba is highly recommended – 8/10
Disney &Universal – Character Breakfasts – were booked for both resorts. At Disney we ate in the Tusker House restaurant and got to see Donald Duck, Pluto etc although I have to say it was a blink and you miss it event as the characters have to get around a lot of tables.
Tusker House restaurant itself though is nice although I found the food a bit bland (6/10).
At Universal you have your character breakfast at Café La Bamba.
This wasn’t as ‘posh’ as the Disney one although the food was similar.
The big difference was that the characters stayed with the guests for a lot longer so your little angels got some good photos with their favourites.
A nice touch was that you also got to stand in the VIP area for the Universal parade (7/10).
The Blue Man Show at Universal – I wasn’t too sure of what to expect with this show and as we went to it on the final night before returning home I was willing it to be a good one.
I needn’t have worried.
One of the best and most intriguing shows we had ever seen.
In the blurb it describes the show as a mix of technology, music and humour.
If that seems a little vague don’t worry.
My children as one were captivated by the ‘blue men’ and their antics and I would urge anyone to go and see this show.
Please note that the further forward you sit the more expensive it is.
We rated the show – 9/10.
I personally found the 2nd week to be more fun based mainly on the fact that it was great to be able to access the parks and Citywalk so easily.
The Portofino was a good choice although it’s worth mentioning that a good friend of mine stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel and was equally happy with his stay there.
None of the onsite hotels have budget prices although if you book early enough you can get good rates for most travel dates.
If you would like any further information or you want a tailor made itinerary to Florida please contact Ted on 0161 941 4721 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org